Mainstream prefers common sense to flim-flam from elites
Malcolm Turnbull can’t go wrong if he sticks to policies based on fact
For all the millions of conversations and communications happening every minute of every day, there are two distinct national conversations occurring. They are totally divergent in source and substance and both lay claim to truth. Yet only one can be true; only one can be rooted in reality.
They are opposites — like Seinfeld’s Bizarro Jerry. On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president. “Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?” asked Levy. It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so. For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.
Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC? Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call but we know any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic. The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd. Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view.
On the day of the US election, one of the ABC’s leading political analysts, former Labor staffer Barrie Cassidy, tweeted the “nightmare” was over and Donald Trump couldn’t win. He then echoed CNN’s take that Trump’s election would trigger the biggest stockmarket crash since 9/11. As we know, not only did Trump win but the markets are breaking records — on the upside.
Over the past few weeks I have been hosting radio on 2GB and 4BC across NSW and Queensland, speaking with up to 70 callers a day and receiving as many email comments on issues as diverse as the proposed sugar tax, African youth gangs, immigrant integration, education policy, energy costs, climate change and sexual harassment. Across the field the perspective of the audience would be as divergent from the ABC view on these issues as the Trump example.
Callers are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, opposed to new taxes, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate. They are professionals, public servants, retirees, tradespeople and teachers with differing experiences and observations to share. But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other “love media” staples.
This is an extraordinary divide. Where the public broadcasters, academics and political/media class see “extreme events” and dangerous “climate disruption”, the mainstream see weather and crippling electricity prices. Where the mainstream sees obvious African gang-related crime and worries about failed integration of South Sudanese refugees, the so-called elites and even leading Victorian police see only “networked youth offenders” and standard delinquency.
Where one narrative sees interfering politicians, overbearing government and burdensome taxation, the other sees the need for extra levies to force us to limit our sugar or alcohol intake. One narrative watches the Golden Globes and sees sanctimony, hypocrisy and trial by media while the other sees Hollywood taking a brave stand.
Perhaps no discussion better demonstrates this divide than the response to an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald last week about volunteering. It was based on a speech by Catherine Walsh, billed as a writer and teacher, who argued that volunteering
Few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples
was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.
Walsh urged us to “stop volunteering” and to campaign for laws to “abandon” fundraising, volunteers and charities so that future generations could be relieved of the “expectation” to support these “inefficient” systems. I don’t know what was more astonishing, that an adult would say or write such a thing or that a media organisation would publish it uncritically.
When I read excerpts on radio the reaction was understandable. People from all walks of life who were volunteers or had benefited from their generosity called to voice their dismay. State emergency service workers, fire fighters, library volunteers, art gallery guides, Meals on Wheels workers, St Vincent de Paul helpers — the list was endless. They were astonished at the lack of gratitude, and the stupidity.
How could this country function without rural fire volunteers, Country Women’s Association branches or surf lifesavers? Conversely, how could we ever amass enough tax to run such vital community organisations as paid professional outfits? It is as insulting as it is absurd.
Yet it perfectly encapsulates the schism. Only someone deeply embedded in the publicly funded political/media class — that artificially created reality — could entertain or share such thoughts. The only volunteers Walsh admired were activists protesting to change laws and policies. This truly is bizarro world. Walsh lauded the attention-seekers and troublemakers while she dissed the people who quietly improve the daily lives of fellow citizens.
It is not hard to see which view is right. And it is not a matter of opinion. The facts support the case for volunteers. Whether you assess the quality of their outcomes — tangible and intangible — or the cost of replacing their services with paid employees, you can see the inestimable value of their contribution to the nation. We know the overwhelming sway of public opinion would support the volunteers. It is a no-brainer.
This is the clue for our politicians, especially on the right-ofcentre. If they don’t have the instincts to know which narrative should guide them on any issue — if they are lured off course by the false narrative of the so-called elites — they just need to concentrate on the facts. Go with the argument that is right. Go with the practical approach — this is the essence of conservatism.
Malcolm Turnbull has had difficulty doing this. His instinct is to accept the plaudits of the political/ media class and run from the frankness, or even coarseness, of the matter-of-fact mainstream approach. Occasionally he shows encouraging signs. He has been forthright on the African gang problem. Strength is required, because to be frank on these issues is to invite vile abuse.
Turnbull’s one hope to extend his prime ministership is to strongly identify with the mainstream narrative on core issues and, more importantly, provide tangible proof that he understands the arguments by delivering action. Energy policy provides the greatest opportunity but his complicated National Energy Guarantee is insufficiently divergent from existing or Labor policy to create a sharp contest. He could end up with endorsement from Labor states, leading to a moderately improved system compared with the present mess but with the issue politically neutered.
The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the US with- drawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India. While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want — the cheapest and most reliable electricity.
Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right. But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues. Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.
Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense. Sure, the left narrative — with its academic and political/media class support — makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum. But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites. John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.
This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class. It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.
Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans. Rather, it is about the facts.
In the issues mentioned earlier the facts support the mainstream view. Every weather event we are seeing has been seen before — from thousands of bats dying in Sydney heatwaves as they were observed doing back in 1792 to a freezing arctic winter in North America. Those seeking to talk up daily events to suit a narrative are constantly caught out — the Bureau of Meteorology’s homogenisation fiddles are still largely unexplained and last weekend it claimed an all-time maximum for the Sydney region before having to correct the record with a hotter day in 1939 (homogenised or not).
And facts tell us Australia’s energy policies cannot have a discernible effect on the global environment but can make us economically uncompetitive. Facts tell us poor or elderly Australians are more likely to die of heat stress or cold exposure if they cannot afford to use their heating or cooling. Mainstream voters are right to demand politicians focus on what they can change rather than on what they pretend to be able to influence — they don’t buy the gesture politics.
If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open marketplace of ideas. Instead, their nonsense dominates.
For much of last year journalists and commentators on the ABC spoke of a “reckless” Trump increasing the risk of “thermonuclear war” because of his sabrerattling over North Korea. Radio National this week interviewed Christopher Hill, the US diplomat who led the six-party talks and other efforts under George W. Bush and Barack Obama to end North Korea’s weapons programs. Host Hamish Macdonald and Hill joked and mocked Trump’s efforts at diplomacy. Yet it was Hill and the West who had been played for fools by North Korea, leaving the world with this nuclear-armed legacy, and it is Trump who has delivered stronger sanctions from the UN, US and China.
With the small but welcome development this week of the North and South holding talks, the ABC dropped its theme of Trump as the dominant and ham- fisted player and busied itself explaining why he could not claim credit for what had transpired. One moment its narrative had Trump bringing us to the brink of war (when things looked ominous) and the next we had the bellicose diplomacy of the world’s most powerful leader being irrelevant (when there were promising signs). This deception might pass muster on Q&A but it does not pass the pub test.
The national broadcaster quotes Al Jazeera, Buzzfeed and CNN to mock and sneer at Trump and the daily confected scandals but seems to have missed the import of what is happening with American taxation reforms, the global economy and other developments in international relations. If this is how jaundiced and inaccurate it can be on issues where we can all see the facts, imagine what it might be getting away with on education policy, healthcare issues, border protection controversies and the climate and energy debate.
Turnbull must be wary of the false narratives, eschew posturing, follow facts over ideology and connect with mainstream views. If he doesn’t, we will see another bizarro administration and the mainstream will wait longer for a more momentous reckoning.
How could this country function without rural fire volunteers, the Country Women’s Association or surf lifesavers?
Malcolm Turnbull, seen here at the SCG for the fifth Ashes Test on January 6, needs to divert his political course towards mainstream opinions